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Manning, Peterson, Pagano: 2012 a year to remember

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Manning, Peterson, Pagano: 2012 a year to remember

DENVER (AP) From Peyton Manning overcoming four neck surgeries to Adrian Peterson's rebound from a shredded knee to Chuck Pagano's fight with leukemia, this has been the Year of the Comeback in the NFL.

A season besmirched by tragedies, replacement officials and a bounty scandal also will go down as one in which some of the game's greats not only regained their old form but somehow surpassed it.

There are always feel-good stories about those who overcome long odds and broken bodies to regain at least a sliver of their past glory. This season provided an abundance of them.

When the season started, who could have expected Manning to recapture his MVP play so quickly with a new team? Or for Peterson to come back less than nine months after shredding his left knee. Or for Jamaal Charles to return better than ever after suffering a similar injury.

Then there's Pagano beating the biggest opponent of his life.

A year ago, Manning was in the midst of four neck operations to fix a nerve injury that had caused his right arm to atrophy and had sidelined him for an entire season. Soon, he would say a tearful farewell to Indianapolis, a city he'd put back on the NFL map, and hook up with John Elway in Denver.

Peterson's left knee was still swollen after he'd shredded it on Christmas Eve, an injury similar to the one Charles suffered earlier last season. Yet both would defy medicine and conventional wisdom alike to rebound as better runners than they were before getting hurt.

Pagano's fight started three months ago when it was disclosed he had cancer, forcing the first-year Colts coach to take time off for chemotherapy treatments. He returned to work this week, taking the reins from assistant Bruce Arians, who guided the team to a surprising playoff berth in his absence.

``When I asked for Bruce to take over, I asked for him to kick some you-know-what and to do great. Damn Bruce, you had to go and win nine games?'' Pagano said. ``Tough act to follow.''

If all goes well at practice this week, Pagano will be on the sideline for the regular-season finale against Houston. That's a final tuneup for the AFC wild-card playoffs that nobody saw coming for the Colts so soon after cutting ties with Manning, who switched teams, coaches, cities and colors and didn't miss a beat in 2012.

Despite a new supporting cast and a 36-year-old body he insists continues to confound him, the quintessential quarterback has had one of the best seasons in his storied career. Manning set franchise or NFL records just about every week while completing 68 percent of his passes for 4,355 yards with 34 TDs and just 11 interceptions.

And yet, he insists he's not anything close to what he used to be, that all he can do is maximize what's left in a body that's been slowed by so many surgeons' scalpels, and trips around the sun.

``I know you don't believe me when I say this; I'm still learning about myself physically and what I can do, it's still the truth,'' Manning said after guiding Denver to its 10th straight win. ``I still have things that are harder than they used to be, so (there's) things I have to work on from a rehab standpoint and a strength standpoint. That's just the way it is and maybe that's the way it's going to be from here on out, I don't know.''

Maybe Manning's being modest, maybe he's suckering opponents into blitzing him more often so he can burn them again. Either way, it's a remarkable rebound for a man whose right arm was so weakened after one of his neck surgeries that he could hardly throw the football 15 yards.

Long before Manning ever dreamed he'd be wearing the orange-mane mustang on his helmet instead of the blue and white horseshoe, Manning met up with college buddy Todd Helton of the Colorado Rockies for a workout during last year's NFL lockout. They retreated to an indoor batting cage at Coors Field with a trainer in tow, and Manning's first pass nose-dived so badly that Helton told him to quit goofing around.

Manning wasn't messing with him. He was dead serious. His arm was shot, his future in football in doubt. A few days later, he underwent spinal fusion surgery and would miss the entire 2011 season.

If doctors had told him that was it, Manning said he would have called it a career without regret. But they gave him a bit of hope and that's all he needed to embark on his comeback in Colorado.

Coach John Fox, never one to lobby for awards, suggested this week that Manning deserves a fifth MVP honor for the numbers he's put up, the obstacles he's overcome, the shift of culture he's engineered.

Manning isn't interested in talking about MVPs or comeback awards. He just wants enough wins to get a shot at hoisting another Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans in six weeks.

Peterson, on the other hand, is unabashedly clear in his desire for some recognition after overcoming torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee, requiring the kind of reconstructive surgery that usually turns dominant players into ordinary ones.

There's a long, long list of players who had shortened careers because of such injuries. But Peterson returned to the Vikings lineup less than nine months after his operation, and with a league-high 1,898 yards, he's 207 yards shy of Eric Dickerson's single-season record. He can topple it with another big game Sunday when Minnesota faces Green Bay with a playoff berth on the line for the Vikings.

With typical unflinching confidence, Peterson said in a recent interview with The Associated Press he's expecting to win the comeback award.

``I kind of have that in the bag, especially how I've been telling people I'm going to come back stronger and better than ever,'' he said.

Carrying the Vikings to the playoffs without a potent passing game in a league dominated by strong-armed, accurate quarterbacks would only burnish the credentials of this thoroughbred throwback.

In any other year, the zenith of comebacks might be that of Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis, who battled back from three torn right ACLs - in 2009, 2010 and 2011 - to be a major contributor to the Panthers this year. No player in NFL history has returned after tearing the same ACL three separate times.

Charles missed nearly all of 2011 with a torn left ACL. Yet the former All-Pro running back has run for 1,456 yards, the seventh-best season in franchise history. He can break his single-season-high set in 2010 with 12 yards against the Broncos on Sunday.

Charles ran for 226 yards last weekend, when he surpassed 750 career carries, which also qualifies him for the NFL record for yards per carry. Charles is averaging 5.82 yards on 770 attempts, which far surpasses the 5.22 yards that Hall of Famer Jim Brown averaged in 2,359 attempts from 1957-65.

Charles, Peterson and Davis are all better than ever. Manning might be, too, but he'll never say it.

``I'm trying to be as good as I can at this stage,'' Manning said. ``A 36-year-old quarterback coming off a year and a-half off, playing on a new team, I'm trying to be as good as I possibly can in this scenario.

``It's a different kind of body I'm playing in and just a different kind of quarterback play for me.''

Yet, as transcendent as ever.

``If he's lost anything, I can't see it,'' said Broncos receiver Brandon Stokley, who played with Manning in his prime in Indianapolis. ``I'm sure in some ways he's better than he ever was. And he's always been great.''

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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AP Pro Football Writer Dave Campbell and AP Sports Writers Michael Marot and Dave Skretta contributed.

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Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter:http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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Hard Knocks L.A. Episode 1 Recap: Anthony Lynn tested positive, Justin Herbert shines

Hard Knocks L.A. Episode 1 Recap: Anthony Lynn tested positive, Justin Herbert shines

Football is back on TV as the new season of HBO's Hard Knocks premiered Tuesday evening. It’s the first time in the documentary's 15 seasons that the show will follow two teams, the Los Angles Chargers and Los Angles Rams. In case you missed it, here are some highlights from episode one. 

Anthony Lynn tested positive

Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn revealed in the opening scene that he had tested positive for coronavirus earlier this year. Lynn is the third known NFL head coach to have contracted the virus, joining New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Peyton and Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson.

Justin Herbert shines

The Chargers first-round draft pick was the star player of episode one showing off his arm skills. He nailed almost every one of his targets during accuracy drills. The episode didn’t show too much of any player, but the former University of Oregon signal-caller stole the show in small amount of camera time he had

Rams head coach Sean McVay

Sean McVay’s introduction to the show had fans jealous of the panoramic views from his home in Los Angeles. McVay’s jokes were also a highlight of the episode. 

COVID-19 precautions and safety

Training camp is off-limits to fans in order to decrease potential exposure of the virus for players and staff. With that in mind, Hard Knocks is fans and media members first look at what an NFL training camp in 2020 looks like. From the frequent testing to the outdoor facilities that both the Rams and Chargers have invested in, it's a different type of training camp. It’s also a different type of Hard Knocks, but because of our desire for anything football-related, it has the potential to be one of the best seasons yet.
 
It will be tough to top the excitement of episode one but with two teams in action, there's no shortage of storylines. Episode two airs on HBO next Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET. 

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Wizards' NBA Bubble Awards: Thomas Bryant was the clear MVP

Wizards' NBA Bubble Awards: Thomas Bryant was the clear MVP

The Wizards closed out their 2019-20 regular season on Thursday with a much-needed win, as they finished the year 25-47 and their time in the NBA's restart bubble 1-7. 

Those final eight games, though, were about much more than wins and losses. The team was evaluating their young players as they look ahead to next season when the expectations will be raised significantly.

Just looking at those eight games, here are some awards and superlatives for what we saw...

Most valuable: Thomas Bryant

This is a very easy call, it was a unanimous vote. Though Bryant wasn't the only young player who looked good in Orlando, he was by far their best player overall.

Bryant leaves the bubble with eight-game averages of 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.4 steals per game. Those are big-time numbers, even if they were compiled on a team that went 1-7. Bryant took on a larger role in the offense and increased his volume while remaining efficient. He shot 53.2 percent overall and 40.5 percent from three.

Bryant took a big step forward. He was healthy after dealing with a foot problem earlier this season, and delivered. The Wizards have a legitimate starting center they can pencil in for next season, hopefully with the green light to take more threes.

RELATED: WIZARDS FINALLY WIN IN BUBBLE

Most improved: Jerome Robinson

This was one of the more unexpected, yet pleasantly surprising developments for the Wizards in the bubble. Robinson, who had spent his entire career to this point backing up really good players, finally got a chance to spread his wings. And, boy, did he.

Robinson found a newfound level of consistency, averaging 14.8 points while shooting a solid 36.7 percent from three. He reached double figures in scoring in seven of the eight games after only doing that four times in his previous 88 NBA appearances. 

Given the small sample size, and the stakes, it probably isn't enough to truly guarantee him a role going into next season. But he has absolutely earned a chance to compete for the back-up role behind Bradley Beal.

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Most intriguing: Troy Brown Jr.

Brown had a tremendous start in the bubble, but slowed down late as he was thrown into the fire as the starting point guard. Though he struggled in that role, it was an invaluable experience that he can take a lot of lessons from.

Overall, though, Brown made clear improvements in his game. He thrived with a greater share of the play-making duties and was able to showcase his skills as a passer and ball-handler.

It was enough to warrant some focus by the Wizards' coaching staff next season. Though they will have John Wall and Beal coming back, they have to find a way to incorporate Brown's strengths. That may come in a bench role as the primary ball-handler in the second unit.

Needs most improvement: Admiral Schofield

Not all of the Wizards' young players displayed growth in the bubble games and included in that group is Schofield, the team's 2019 second round pick. Unfortunately for him, it was all juxtaposed with the breakout performance of Bol Bol, whom the Wizards passed on to select Schofield out of the University of Tennessee.

Schofield averaged only 2.7 points in 12.6 minutes while shooting 29.4 percent from the field. He looked uncertain on the floor and continues to sort of float between roles with no defined path towards stability in the rotation.

Keep in mind, though, Schofield is just starting out his NBA career. He was a second round pick and those guys take time. He has the physical tools, the work ethic and the smarts to make it in this league. But there is no question this will be an important offseason for the guy.

Best moment: Moe Wagner vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo

The most memorable image from the Wizards' time in Orlando was definitely the ejection of the league's reigning MVP in their penultimate game. Antetokounmpo has since been suspended by the league for it.

He lost his cool and headbutted Wagner, who now has another notch on his belt in his neverending quest to get under the skin of his opponents. He is a pest and an effective one at that.

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